MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University volleyball team found itself in unfamiliar territory on Tuesday after playing 13 matches on the road, spread out over the first month of the season.
For once, the Wildcats were at home on game day.
"It was really nice to have 500 fans in the stands for a Tuesday night match," NMU head coach Dominic Yoder said. "It's pretty exciting for us.
Northern Michigan University freshman libero Alex Berger serves against Michigan Tech during the second set of Tuesday’s GLIAC volleyball match at Vandament Arena in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Wellens)
"We don't see crowds like this on the road."
The 'Cats returned to Vandament Arena and swept their rebuilding rivals from Michigan Tech 25-11, 25-13, 25-16 in front of an announced crowd of 508 fans in a GLIAC match that only lasted an hour and 16 minutes.
While the team does practice throughout the week on its home floor, junior middle hitter Sarah Hamilton said it was a big deal for the team to finally play something other than an intrasquad scrimmage in front of its home crowd.
"It was hard being away at first, but it was kind of nice to get used to playing on the road," Hamilton said. "It was definitely more exciting now that we have a home game. It was a big deal. We were gone for so long."
There were only three lead changes and three ties the entire night as the Wildcats dominated the Huskies, who brought in new head coach Matt Jennings during the offseason.
Jennings, in his first match against Yoder and the 'Cats in Marquette, was speechless after the thumping his Huskies took.
"It was by far the worst we played all year and I really don't know what happened," Jennings said. "I don't know where they went."
Sophomore outside hitter Shelby Jones led a less than stellar Husky attack, posting six of the team's 18 kills. Tech (5-8 overall, 2-3 in GLIAC) finished with 23 errors on the 82 total attacks and eight service errors as well.
Meanwhile for Northern (11-3 overall, 4-1 in GLIAC), junior outside hitter Lina Lopes posted a match-high eight kills while freshman outside hitter Lisa Studnicka finished with seven. The duo combined for just three attack errors with the 'Cats totaling only eight as a team.
Both versatile players have been able to strengthen each other, on the attack up front as well as in the back row as a defensive presence, Yoder said.
"We help each other because when she is in the front row, I can see what shots are open for her," Studnicka said. "When I go to the front row, it's the same for me. We help each other and play off each other."
Studnicka showed her versatility against Tech, posting a match-high 10 digs. While freshman libero Alex Berger, senior defensive specialist Kalin Zimmerman, junior setter Kellisha Harley and Lopes have all posted or shared the match high in digs, Tuesday was the first time Studnicka carried the defensive torch for the 'Cats.
Yoder said it's the front row that inspires the back line to dig up balls, whether it be fighting off attacks or on the serve receive.
Against the Huskies on Tuesday, NMU only surrendered two aces.
"They have a lot of heart and a lot of desire," Yoder said. "They are going to try to keep the ball off the floor and give us a chance to swing."
Northern remains in Marquette this weekend for the first time all season, hosting GLIAC South Division-leading Wayne State (10-3 overall, 5-0 in GLIAC) at 7 p.m. Friday, and Findlay (6-6 overall, 3-2 in GLIAC) at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.